Venus in Fur

Mark Blanchard as Thomas and Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda
Mark Blanchard as Thomas and Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of “Venus in Fur,” written by David Ives, directed by Mark Blanchard with KATYUSHA (Ekaterina Melnik), Mark Blanchard and Jay Duncan through September 3.

Let me begin by professing my love for all things David Ives. He is a brilliant, intuitive writer. Excruciatingly funny, he has the rare ability to eviscerate with charm, even kindness, while exposing the human condition as the paradox it is.

Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda and Mark Blanchard as Thomas
Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda and Mark Blanchard as Thomas

I have not had the opportunity to see his play “Venus in Fur” before so I was thrilled to find this production running at the McCadden Theatre.  

The story revolves around a playwright and director…interestingly enough, Thomas Novachek.  We find him at the end of a long and painful day of fruitless casting for his new play, an adaptation of the German book, “Venus in Fur.” A sadomasochistic novel. An actress arrives late, Vanda, as he about to leave for dinner with his girlfriend. She insists on reading for the role, against all his protestations. He relents if only to get it over with. But she is brilliant. Perfect even. And so the play becomes a tug of war between these two disparate humans as they discover the story together. As Novachek opens up more and more and as his “Venus,” so strangely in tune with the character, entirely off script and effortlessly the embodiment of everything Novachek thinks he wants in the role…the tables slowly turn. Vanda takes control and Novachek, who clearly delights in the sadomasochistic storyline, gets his sadism masochized…so to speak.

Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda and Mark Blanchard as Thomas
Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda and Mark Blanchard as Thomas

“Venus in Fur” is sexy, but mostly in a cerebral sense. A fascinating flipping of roles. A director has all the control, even though he may not think he does, or that he uses his position to control. But of course, he does. It’s his play, he’s casting, so he chooses who gets the job. It’s a tricky situation every single time. Especially in a story that revels in sadism. The fun comes in when Vanda begins to question the story, the premise, the reason for reviving an old book from a time long before women’s rights were even considered a ‘thing.’ As much as Thomas professes to be a modern man in a monogamous relationship, why is he drawn to this material at all? And what are his intentions? To revile it? To glorify it? To question its relevancy? Doesn’t the production of the play make it relevant again?

I supposed the play poses the dilemma of historical context. It forces us to look in the eye the perspective of pornography. This is a word that Vanda uses over and over again in reference to the story, but one which Thomas wholeheartedly rejects. Although it’s never quite clear where his motives lie in reviving some old German guy’s twisted fantasy. So maybe he’s just uncomfortable with the ‘porn’ premise because of what that makes him?

The story plays out like a cat-and-mouse game. But it’s pretty clear from the start who is the mouse and who is the ….cat.  It really never ceases to amaze me how men, or the characters they play, could ever really see themselves as superior to women. It’s comical. And I suppose that is the real point here. Although in the end, it’s a point that is spectacularly and mythologically made.

This is a wonderful production of a brilliant play. Simply done. With just enough set and costume to convince. The performances are excellent. Thomas is genuine and a little creepy. Vanda is an absolute goddess. In the way a woman would see a woman as a goddess. Strong. Bold. Unafraid. Sexy. Confident. Gorgeous, but not in an obvious way. She is the alpha, as women usually are of course.

Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda
Katyusha (Ekaterina Melnik) as Vanda

I loved “Venus in Fur.” But then I’m a believer in goddesses and of taking to task those who casually and thoughtlessly perpetuate damaging stereotypes in the name of ‘art.’ But most especially when they do it in a brilliant and very funny way.

David Ives is a genius. But the words alone are not enough. They have to be thoughtfully spoken and purposefully played. These two actors fit their roles to perfection and the fire between them on stage felt real and masterfully managed. In short, it worked brilliantly. 

Any excuse to see a play of this stature is one to take. But it’s only running until September 3rd, which will be here before you know it…it’s almost half way through August already!!!!

So don’t dawdle. If you like plays written for grown ups then you will bloody love this!



Through September 3

Friday and Saturday 8PM and Sunday 3PM


McCaden Place Theatre

157 N McCadden Place, Hollywood, CA 90004